BALTIMORE (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, in a visit to Baltimore, told church planters, “If we don’t reach the cities, we won’t reach America.”
Hunt visited Baltimore to see the work of “Embrace Baltimore,” one of the SBC’s “Strategic Focus Cities” initiatives — a cooperative effort by the Baltimore Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) and the North American Mission Board to foster evangelism and church planting.
Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, toured the city March 31-April 1, met with church planters and directors of missions and preached a one-night revival service at a local African American church.
“Time is short and we must engage the culture now,” Hunt told Baltimore-area pastors and their wives who met for dinner along with Embrace Baltimore and BCM/D staff members. “I desire to lead First Baptist Woodstock and influence other churches to become engaged in your great city. I’ll be challenging my church’s missions staff to really seek to be engaged at a level where we could really make a difference.”
Hunt spent much of his time in Baltimore with church planters, listening as the young men described their vision for reaching the city. Hunt also toured the neighborhoods the planters are intending to reach for Christ.
“Dr. Hunt was very encouraging,” said Tally Wilgis, lead pastor of Captivate Church in Towson, Md., which he plans to launch in September. “He’s the real deal. When you talk to Dr. Hunt, he’s not pretentious. He’s a pastor’s pastor,” Wilgis said.
Joel Rainey, director of missions for the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association, called Hunt’s message and tone “refreshing.”
“While he stands unapologetically on the authority of Scripture, he made it clear to our guys in the field that he is not interested in narrowing the parameters of cooperation. His responses to questions from church planters were candid, transparent and full of passion regarding the future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Rainey said.
Rainey said Hunt also made it clear to young church planting leaders that “walking away” because they sometimes disagree is not the way to generate the kind of change they want to see.
“He knows there’s tough terrain within the denomination and he responded frankly to the questions we asked him,” said Aaron Pankey, pastor of Infinity Church in Laurel, Md., who plans to launch a second church in Baltimore in September.
Pankey said he asked Hunt about articles he had seen in the secular media predicting the evangelical church’s collapse in the next 10 years.
“Dr. Hunt’s response was that the word ‘evangelize’ means spreading the Good News, and as long as the church continues to share the Good News there is no threat to the evangelical church dying. He said church planters are a cause of celebration,” Pankey said.
“We are Christ’s church,” Hunt told the group. “As long as there is a prophet proclaiming Christ, there will be evangelical Christianity. Don’t buy into the surveys and polls out there, but just be faithful to what God has called us to. As church planters, you are the future of Christianity in our country.”
Hunt preached a one-night revival at one of Baltimore’s leading African American congregations, Colonial Baptist Church. Preaching from 1 Kings 17, Hunt said the place Christians must be is in God’s “there” -– the place God tells you to be. Hunt explained “there” is the place of God’s purpose, of God’s power and of dependence on God.
“I’ve heard young seminary students say, ‘I tell you one thing, I’m not going to an established Baptist church and fight through all that tradition. I’m going to start a church.’
“That’s not your call!” Hunt said. “You don’t make the decision as to where you are going. We’re reporting for duty. Last time I checked, He’s Lord. I surrender. He gives the orders and I need to serve exactly where He sends me.
“Men wonder why they never feel God’s power or see any evidence of His working, and it’s because they’re out of His purpose and not in His will. Sometimes, the place of power and dependency is a place of dryness. Some who go through difficult times are right smack dab in the will of God,” Hunt said.
Fellow Baptist church leaders and representatives joining Hunt in Baltimore for the two-day “Capture the Vision” tour were Ken Lassiter and Jim Law, First Baptist Woodstock; Keith Kluthe, First Baptist Church, Danville, Ark.; Bill Morgan and George McRae, First Baptist Church-Concord, Knoxville, Tenn.; Jim Locke and Brian Barlow, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.; Brian Foster, Burnt Hickory Baptist Church, Powder Springs, Ga.; Cliff Smith, First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Chuck Tanner and Ken McCoy, Silverdale Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Patricia Marder, Calvary Baptist Church, Clearwater, Fla.
Embrace Baltimore offers “Capture the Vision” tours to give attendees the overall vision and needs of Embrace Baltimore and how their churches can participate. Upcoming “Capture the Vision” tours are May 18-20, July 20-22, Aug. 17-19, Sept. 14-16 and Oct. 12-14. For more information, contact Jaimee Lafave, Embrace Baltimore director of mobilization, at [email protected]
Sharon Mager writes for BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, and for Embrace Baltimore.